Former editor Reilly Olinger ’22 shares the top five lessons she learned during her time at College
Source: Courtesy of Reilly Olinger
Source: Courtesy of Reilly Olinger
This article is featured in the special issue Commencement & Reunions 2022.
It’s a sad truth that the older you get, the more you understand how older people think. As I sit here grinding up essays I promised myself I wouldn’t procrastinate on and chewing on the meager scraps of food left in my senior apartment, I remember something my friend’s dad told me said years ago – the days pass slowly, but the years pass so quickly. It’s among the many “old people” feelings that I used to roll my eyes at, but now hit a little harder than I’d like to admit. When I listen to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac or peek into the mirror to see a smile that looks a lot like my mother’s, I find myself beginning to understand. In the fog of finishing the term, the week, or the next class, I feel like I haven’t really stopped to think or ponder those feelings – but what better place to reflect than the Mirror section?
I learned a lot at Dartmouth – more than I will go into in this article for the purpose of having a good ‘Top Five’ list.
Lesson One: Living in the woods has its pros and cons. The star-filled sky over the golf course is almost beautiful enough to make me forget I couldn’t hack it into a full-time wilderness. I took diligent mental and physical notes during first year travel leader training, trying to equip myself to protect my new children from the savage forces that might await us on our walks around the organic farm. . Luckily for my 25th birthday, I didn’t have to purify the water or fight wildlife other than a few curious squirrels. A few weeks ago I mistook a bear sitting outside a dumpster at my work dog and tried to catch it. I wasn’t able to experience it – but in my defense, black bears look a bit like Newfoundland if you weren’t wearing your glasses (which I wasn’t).
Second lesson: take pictures (even if they are ugly). In first grade, teeming with self-loathing, I hardly let anyone take my picture. What exists in my camera roll are the products of an awkward Foco photoshoot, unflattering selfies in a frat bathroom, and a few blurry images of Green Key. Unsurprisingly, I look completely good in every photo, and I love having them – especially the silly candids.
Third lesson (still deeply in progress): Ask for help when you need it. Dartmouth really had the best of times and the worst of times – but, in all honesty, there were plenty of times I did worse than I had to. I’m forever grateful to the friends who kept checking on me after I went MIA for a week, the teachers who understood without many words what I meant when I said “the last few weeks had been pretty tough” and the amazing nurse who picked up the phone when I called the crisis line at 1 a.m. — I honestly don’t know if I’d be here without you. If I could go back, I would be more honest with people, including myself. My ego led to the end of friendships with people I canceled one too many times without explanation and I sent panicked emails in week eight to some of my favorite teachers that I had finally worked up the courage to to admit my failures. Looking back, I feel like I received too much kindness – but I really appreciated every ounce of it.
Lesson four (this one’s a bit mundane): pretend until you make it. Looking back on me at 17, I’m really, really proud of myself. I was incredibly shy in high school—my gummy headphones sewn almost constantly into my head, blaring the loudest criero music I could find in an attempt to stave off chatter. If I could meet my teenage self, I imagine she’d be shocked to learn that I not only chat with strangers, but actually enjoy it. I participate in my classes, although I am not 100% sure of the answer. More importantly, I don’t really mind that people don’t like me. I no longer feel the need to manufacture some sort of prepackaged personality to appeal to new people – I’ve found some wonderful friends who don’t just care about my in-depth analysis of the Fast and Furious franchise or my love of gaming. stupid words, but actually seem to enjoy it.
Fifth lesson: It’s normal to be wrong. Beyond those character lessons, I also learned a lot in class – what a throwback is (something I think about more than I expected), how public schools are funded (something which I have many more opinions on than I expected) and what a Bildungsroman is (something I probably never would have learned without the LIT distribution requirement). Somehow a lot of my beliefs have become a little weaker, beliefs that I once had so heavily clouded by new experiences and perspectives. But I think it’s a good thing. I wonder how I’m going to think differently about my college experience four years from now, if I look back.
Although I still technically have to complete one more term at Dartmouth (my D-Plan, like many, complicated by COVID-19), I’m excited to get through the graduation stage on Sunday. The past four years, as difficult as they have been at times, are something I have truly cherished. The late nights at Robo editing this article, the early morning Novack study sessions, and the daily swims I took in the Connecticut River this spring brought me so much joy – and brought me closer to wonderful people that I claim the privilege of being friends with. I learned so much from the people I met here. And while I’m ready to leave Hannover for what lies ahead, I hope I can keep a few with me.
Reilly Olinger is a former news editor for The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2022.